The conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) was one of Germany's most celebrated performing musicians, and his reputation has grown to almost mythical proportions in the five-and-a-half decades since his death. But the controversy surrounding his political behavior during the 1930s and '40s has never let up. There are those who declare that Furtwängler - who was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and State Opera when Hitler's National Socialists came to power in 1933, and who continued to work in Germany until three months before the end of the Second World War - approved of the Nazis; according to others, he merely used them to further his career; and many claim that he actively opposed them.
Furtwängler came from an intellectually distinguished family and was educated by private tutors. He began to play the piano at the age of four and to compose at the age of seven. In 1922, after having served a long apprenticeship at major and minor German opera houses, he persuaded Louise Wolff, Germany's most powerful concert agent, to support his candidacy for the conductorship of the Berlin Philharmonic, which had just been orphaned by the death of its great conductor, Artur Nikisch. Other contenders for the job included such celebrities............